Coffee and getting your customers to Love you

Love coffee

What does coffee and love have to do with growing a business? Let me start with a story. Hang on. It has an important message for marketers and businesspeople.

Get customers to love you like I love Coffee
Get customers to love you like I love Coffee

Yesterday, my friend Roxanne made fun of me claiming to be a ‘coffee connoisseur’ on my twitter profile. I didn’t mean to brag about my expertise, I really meant to say I love coffee, good coffee. But just a few years ago I did not drink coffee at all. What happened?15 years back I lived in Mexico. NAFTA was in vogue and I was an entrepreneur (now I am an intrapreneur – an entrepreneur inside a a company) looking to expand my business. I visited a cousin in Xalapa, a beautiful town in the mountains with perfect weather for growing coffee. My cousin had a plantation and told me about his coffee business. I was intrigued.

I went to Inc. magazine’s forum and wrote a post looking for a business partner. Someone who would be interested in exploring the idea of exporting coffee to the US. That’s how I met my friend Fernando Labastida  who loves coffee and had the entrepreneurial bug. A few weeks later I arrived in Austin. Fernando took me to a coffee roaster where we learned about the roasting process and to coffee houses from Mozart’s on the Lake to Ruta Maya to the famous Captain Quackenbush’s Intergalactic Dessert Company and Espresso Cafe.

After learning about the craft of growing, sorting and drying coffee with my cousin in Xalapa, then learning about the delicate art of roasting coffee in Austin, visiting the multiple coffee shops in Austin and thinking about the potential business, I was hooked.

Although I was not a coffee drinker just a few weeks back I had learned the proper way to taste coffee. I learned about acidity, caramelization, the importance of roasting beans of even size, the difference of roasting in a pan versus using hot air, the chemical processes that occur when roasting, grinding and brewing coffee. I became a connoisseur. And I fell in love.

At the end, we did not start a coffee import business for various reasons, one of them being the required scale of investment to make the economics work. However, I ended up with a great friendship and a passion for good coffee. And I learned one important marketing lesson:

You can’t love what you don’t know.

(and neither can your customers)

You cannot fall in love with your sweetheart before you meet her. A preacher once told me it was important to read the bible, because you can’t love Jesus unless you know him. Your customers cannot fall in love with your products, your brand, your company without getting to know it. What should marketers do about this? Three things come to mind.

  1. Enable customers to try your product. If you sell food, offer free samples. If you sell software promote free trials. What if you are in the professional services business? Your product is your knowledge, let customers sample it too by offering free advice or workshops, free articles or white papers.
  2. Get customers who try and love your product to share their love. Social media is the easiest way to do this. Let this be your guiding principle for your Facebook strategy. Enable customer reviews, and embrace them (the good and the bad, you can learn a lot from what your customers say). Add social sharing buttons to your website and your blog. Hand out extra business cards to your satisfied customers. Ask them in person to recommend you to friends.
  3. Make it easy for customers to experience your product without using it. Make them feel like they are using your product. This can be done via technology like 3D video maybe but it can be much simpler: you can do it via narrative. Instead of talking about features and benefits, tell customers about how they will feel when (or after) they use your product. If you sell a convertible let your prospects imagine the feeling of the wind in their face, the openess of the road and the warmth of the sun.

The fundamental idea is that knowledge creates a connection. Knowledge can create love (if your product is good). Even more important, knowledge is a prerequisite of love. If your customers learn about your business primarily via your website, how much knowledge are you sharing? How many interesting stories do you share? How do you talk about your people and your unique way of doing business so that people can identify with you?

Let your customers love you, by telling them more about you and letting them experience your product before they buy.

Is Your Loyalty Program Demonstrating Your Loyalty?


Like most business people with global responsibility, I fly quite a bit. I have been a Platinum member for a couple of years and have flows withAmerican almost a million miles now. A few weeks ago I headed to the counter and asked to be added to the list to get upgraded.  After all, I have 18 segment upgrades in my AA Account.

“No can’t do. You cannot use your segment upgrades anymore” said the AA Lady. Wait…what? Last year because I was transitioning to a new job, I did not fly much, and when I flew other airlines were more convenient. I did not get enough miles to qualify for Platinum – or Gold. I missed by just about 2,000 miles. I was demoted from Platinum elite member to member.  And if you are not Gold, you cannot use your earned segment upgrades. American won’t allow me to use the upgrades I earned by being a loyal flier for years.

Then, I got an email yesterday where American is asking me to pay $559 to retain my elite status at Gold and enjoy benefits such as checking two bags at no extra cost, which I get at Southwest.

What American does not get is that I am the same guy they used to pamper with free upgrades to business class on an intercontinental trip, complementary access to lounges and other perks. Now that I am traveling again, I don’t feel compelled to use AA – for them I am just a guy. In reality, I am a business traveler, and I spend more than I would like on travel – and American knows it.  American’s loyalty program failed to prove loyalty to me as a customer .

American has lost my loyalty and the loyalty of thousands of customers. Now American is in bankruptcy and at their current market ($218 million) Apple could buy the airline with the profits they make in a day and a half. But the goal is not to pick on American or rant about my experience, I am using it as an example of having the wrong idea about what a loyalty program should be.

“ Loyalty programs should be about demonstrating loyalty to your customers, not about bribing customers to do business with you”

Here is the problem: Most Loyalty programs are focused on rewards, which ends up being the same as bribing the customer to do business with you. Ironically, there is no loyalty in bribery: as soon as the bribe stops, customers will go elsewhere.

What if you thought about a loyalty program in a different way? What if the goal of your loyalty program is to demonstrate your loyalty to customers? Customers that feel appreciated, that feel they trust a company, that believe a company will stand by its principles, will become a loyal customer. Customers will be loyal because they will want to do business with you. Not because you bribed them. Seth saysLoyalty can be rewarded, but loyalty usually comes from within”

Maybe that’s why Forrester Research found no correlation to a small negative correlation between customer loyalty and having a loyalty program.

The key driver of loyalty is good, consistent, trust worthy service that meets the needs of your customers.

The old customer marketing funnel based on the AIDA model (attention, interest, desire and action) is obsolete. The new marketing funnel needs to be customer focused. The new customer model is CSLA (horrible, but hey, acronyms suck anyway):  Costomer -> Satifaction -> Loyalty -> Advocacy

  • You create a Customer when they buy a product or service from you
  • Customer becomes Satisfied when you meet or exceed expectations
  • Satisfaction drives Loyalty, which is repeat purchases
  • Satisfaction  and Loyalty make the customer an Advocate that promotes your product or service via word of mouth

Building an Effective Influencer Strategy

Influencer strategy seems to be one of the pillars of social media marketing. There are many questions about how to identify, reward and empower influencers. So let’s say you have identified the top 1000 influencers in tour space. And then what?  It reminds me of the U2 song that goes “We thought we had the answers….it was the questions we had wrong”.

 What is an influencer? Often an influencer is measured in terms of the number of friends of twitter followers. Fans and followers are a measure of reach or popularity, not influence, but it is related. An influencer is someone who can convince other people to buy from you. That’s all that matters. From all the options for social media marketing activities the only ones that matter are those who result in someone buying from you.

 “influencer” is not a label for people in general. It’s not a species. There is no influencer gene that I know of. People have different levels of influence in different topics, it is contextual. For example, I am an influencer when it comes to photography, but a normal guy when it comes to sports and very much not an influencer in terms of cosmetics.

 How do I know I am an influencer in the context of photography? Because many of my friends and colleagues have purchased digital cameras based on my recommendations.  Many people I don’t even know have done the same – people I have never met, never exchanged emails with, people that don’t follow me. How? I have influenced them because they have read my opinions online and relied on my knowledge to make a buying decision. They trust me because I am a a normal consumer, like them, and I have lots of passion and experience about photography.

 All consumers, myself included, avoid or ignore advertising. When exposed to advertising most people don’t believe what it says. Grab a photography magazine and look at the ads: all of them say their cameras are awesome. People don’t trust marketers. But they trust people like them. They will be influenced by other customers who have experience with the products they are considered. People who like talking about their experiences, share their knowledge and opinions are advocates.

 The most common influencer strategy is to find the top influencers and reward them for their advocacy. Depending on the nature of your business, this could be a good strategy – or not. Often these customers, identified as influencers, are already predisposed to buy. Surely they deserve some recognition and special treatment, and you must empower them to be advocates. However, you cannot influence the influencers easily. They are experts; they know their stuff and probably know more about your products than most people in your company.

 Here is an interesting idea: instead of finding influencers why don’t you create influencers. Or better said, you can turn a customer who is very satisfied into an advocate by empowering him or her to influence others.

Imagine you are in the banking business. Now imagine you have a customer that is really happy with your checking account, the service from your credit card and your credit services. This customer is willing to tell other people about how great your bank is.

Imagine how powerful it would be to put this customer in a center of a room full of customers who are interested in checking accounts. Imagine if he had the ability to share his experience with your bank, in his own words, to all these potential customers. That would be really powerful, right? This room full of prospects is your website, they are visiting the “checking accounts” page, or the “credit cards” page. They are interested in your services, why else would they be there?

 That’s the power of empowering customers to share opinions and experiences (what we at Bazaarvoice  call reviews and stories). They allow customers to become influencers, enabling “normal” people to become advocates for your brand, in a very authentic and very convincing way. By enabling this conversation on your site, on your product or service pages, you are creating an influencer strategy that results in more sales. It’s a proven system.

 A great thing about a customer influencer strategy is that you don’t even have to find these influencers. You don’t have to identify them or know their name or pamper them with special treatment. However, you can still recognize them. You can give the more influential customers a badge that recognizes their contributions or their expertise.

 And this recognition can be helpful for customers. It helps them find among dozens of other customer opinions and give content to these opinions. In fact, customers can vote on the helpfulness of other customers contribution and sort them based on their helpfulness.  The helpfulness votes help identify the most influential customers, those that write reviews that help customers make decisions, which earn them badges in turn.

 All these pieces work together to promote advocacy, identify and recognize influencers in a way that helps customers buy. This system of advocacy and influence is customer centric, customer-driven and helps customers. Except for the sales, which benefit you and your business.

 10 ideas for developing an influencer strategy:

  1. An influencer is someone who helps other people buy from you
  2. Influence is contextual
  3. Popularity is not influence
  4. Passion, knowledge advocacy and popularity are factors of influence
  5. Everyone can be an influencer about the topics they are passionate about
  6. You don’t have to know your influencers (but it can help). Instread of finding them allow influencers to sel-identify
  7. Influencers are “turned-on” by empowering them to be advocates
  8. Most influencers are hard to influence. You can’t buy influence – stay authentic
  9. Your most influential customers are already predisposed to buy from you
  10. Influencers are often driven by status: recognition is more important than rewards
  11. (bonus) If your products suck it will be really hard to find influencers. The opposite is true, of course.